The scam uses a phone line combined with an effort to pull on the heartstrings of people, as well as a service designed for hearing impaired persons. The scammers use deceit to rip off restaurant owners.
Mike Sammartino, who owns Bruno's, 'Taste of Italy, states, "They're tying up our employees, our time and our phone lines." These scammers have nearly cost his business five-hundred dollars in lasagna.
Mike's business has been the target of forty or more phone calls in the last two months that have had fraudulent intent. On July 24th alone, his business was hit three times. A frustrated Mike spoke not only to his phone service, but to the FBI and the police. He went on to say, "I've been told there's nothing they can do. But there are still people falling for it. People need to know this is bad." The scam works in this way...
When a restaurant or business gets a call through a TTY service or Internet Protocol Relay service for the hearing and speech impaired, the caller is can use a device to type in a text conversation that is relayed to the other party through a communications assistant.
The scammers use a computer to simulate the TTY equipment, call a restaurant or business, place an order and provide a credit card number for payment. Here's the glitch; the caller fabricates a reason for overpaying the business - either a courier service that must be paid in cash, or the scam artist puts in a follow up call requesting to cut their original order in half. Then the scammer requests that the overcharge be returned or wired to the phony courier service; many times through Western Union.
Michell Truax, Supervisor at Montana's Office of Consumer Protection stated, "The bottom line is, they want you to wire money. That's the part that pulls at the heartstrings. And once you wire money, it's gone. It could be picked up anywhere in the world." These ripoff artists are taking advantage of businesses that want to accommodate persons who are hearing impaired.
Randy Holbrook works for Heartland Payment Systems, which is a credit card processing company. He is familiar with these kinds of scams and knows Mike, the owner of the restaurant that has been scammed. Randy said, "It's really unfortunate, because people want to help other people." Even though these kinds of scams exist and warnings are circulating, business owners are working under the impression that they can't decline calls through either IP relay or TTY, and that they cannot hang up on such a caller. Whether or not the law is codified, a business could be subject to an ADA complaint.
Mike and his restaurant are not alone; other businesses have had similar experiences. David Maplethorpe is the executive chef at the Rex; he says the restaurant has received three scam calls in mid-July - one of which lasted for forty-five minutes. David said, "And she was extremely rude. She screamed at me." The third call the Rex received cost the restaurant fifty chicken Portobello mushroom sandwiches. The financial cost? Five-hundred dollars.
Marcy Tatarka owns Beyond Basil catering. She says the scam cost her hours of time, with calls coming in beginning several months ago, sometimes at a rate of one every thirty minutes. She said, "They called back continually. Off and on for over a month. And you can't get off the phone. One scammer ordered sandwiches for 200 people, to be delivered to a location on the other side of Billings." One scammer actually asked that Marcy wire seven-hundred dollars, the extra amount that was supposedly included in the credit card charge, to a New Jersey shipping company.
The scam callers couldn't care less about the food itself, they just want to see if the credit card works. Mike, owner of Bruno's, was told that most of the calls originated in Nigeria. When he asked one of the scam callers for an email address he was shocked to see that the person's email address included the words, 'conjob.' The scam may be new to Mike's area, but it has been going on across America for some time apparently. The scam also doesn't affect restaurants alone.
The President of Montana's Association of the Dear, Char Harasymczuk, says the scam has deaf people very upset. She has received reports of upwards of ninety-percent of the calls using IP Relay or TTY being fraudulent. She stated, "And then you have deaf people waiting in the queue for an IP operator when they need to make a legitimate call. Deaf people have always struggled to contact people and this has just added to the problem. It has also cost them legitimate connections to services they need." People who rely on TTY and IP Relay services are getting increasingly frustrated.
The number of businesses that have been taken in by this kind of scam is hard to tell.
There is no getting around the annoyance it causes, and the costs related to time and money are immense. The scammers are using algorithms that are formulated to generate credit card numbers with a high likelihood of working. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. Check the validity of a questionable call - contact the Office of Consumer Protection at: 406-444-4500 or 800-481-6896. Businesses have the right to ask for the caller's full name, their address, as well as their telephone number. They should ask for the three or four digit card verification code on the back of the credit card or the name of the bank on the card as well.